Damien nurtures its Aina


POSTED: Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Every day is a family reunion at Damien Memorial High School's football practices.

There's first-year head coach Punahou Aina. Then there's offensive line coach Kuhio Aina, Punahou's older brother. There's defensive line coach Micah Aina, Punahou's nephew. Then there's receivers coach Clem Enoka III, Punahou's brother-in-law. There's Kim Aina Enoka, Punahou's sister, who helps him with administrative duties and the team's stats. Then there's Schae-Ann Enoka, Punahou's niece, who heads up the team's staff of statisticians. And finally, there's Wally Aina Jr., the family patriarch and the school's athletic director.

It's all relative at Damien this season, and you'd be hard-pressed to avoid an Aina around the Monarchs' program.

“;What are the chances? How many schools can you say Grandpa's the AD, Uncle's the head coach, and I'm third generation? It's kind of unreal how we're all here, helping out in the end,”; said 19-year-old Micah, the son of Punahou's oldest brother, Wally Aina III.

Whether those family ties can turn Damien (0-2) into a winner in the ultra-competitive ILH remains to be seen. But the Monarchs have something no other team can claim: While others preach the virtue of the team as a family unit, the Ainas are an indisputable living, breathing epitome of just that.

“;It's been the greatest opportunity for our family,”; said Punahou, 33. “;We're still tight on the outside of football. But as we have families, we have kids, we have professions (and) you don't have as many opportunities to get together. Who can say they see their brothers every day? I see my brothers six days a week. It's definitely provided an opportunity for us to get to know each other on a different level.”;

The Ainas have all returned to the Damien sidelines because of their love for Monarch purple. Wally Aina Jr. first attended Damien in 1966, and after he graduated in 1970, he stayed at the school as an assistant coach. It is a relationship that has continued for 37 of the 39 years since.

All three Aina sons grew up at Damien, becoming as ubiquitous as the tackling dummies at practice. All three played for Damien and Wally Jr. All three have coached, at some point, at Damien.

But Punahou has ventured into uncharted territory. He's become the undisputed leader despite being the youngest in the family. And he's taking the reins from his father, who was the school's head coach from 1980 to '93 and also last season. Wally Jr., 57, has taken care this season to avoid stepping on his youngest child's first foray into head coaching by lording over the team. Instead, the father watches games from the stands rather than the sideline, drives himself to games rather than ride on the team bus and opines only when asked.

“;I've been here my whole life, and it's a long shadow,”; Wally Jr. said. “;You want your son, or the head coach, no matter who he is, to be the captain of his own ship.”;

They say blood is thicker than water, and so far, it has proven to be thicker than any disagreements over coaching decisions as well, which is easier said than done when head coach vs. assistant coach inevitably, albeit momentarily, devolves into baby brother vs. big brother.

“;In coaching, X's and O's is one thing,”; Clem said. “;Technique is one thing. But to be able to have people surrounding you who you can trust and are loyal, I think that makes things a lot more consistent, a lot safer. You can trust the people you're with.”;

Damien's dusty, 80-yard practice field is an apropos place for the Aina daily family reunion. It is a setting without the pomp and circumstance, without the glitz and glamour found at many other ILH schools. And it is where the Ainas come to put aside everything else and focus on football and family.

“;I still kind of pinch myself every now and again,”; Punahou said.